Retailers may get a two-year reprieve from the mandatory Alcohol Code of Practice which proposes they display information about the alcohol unit content of drinks on sale and their impact on consumer health.

A leaked letter from Business Secretary Peter Mandelson to other members of a cabinet sub-committee revealed that the implementation of the code may be shelved until April 2011 to avoid any "anti-business" measures during the recession.

In the letter, Mandelson wrote: "I support the approach that where measures appear without a planned implementation date and on the assumption they are not planned for the near future we commit to not imposing these measures until after April 2011."

The Code also proposed a flexible set of conditions that could be imposed by local authorities on individual stores. These included banning bulk-buy promotions and requiring staff to operate a Challenge 21 policy.

It had been criticised by the Association of Convenience Stores as "confusing and draconian".